Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted" by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Entertainment Weekly (possibly my very favourite magazine) once called "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" the best TV show of all time... and I can't think of too many arguments to the contrary.

I was 9 years old when the MTM show made its debut (around the same time as such other classic series as "All in the Family," MASH" and "The Bob Newhart Show" -- boy, were we spoiled...!), and although I didn't LOVE it from the start, I soon became a faithful follower. It didn't hurt that the show was set in Minneapolis, where I have a lot of relatives. On one early 1970s visit, my uncle drove us by the house where Mary supposedly lived, and past the spot downtown where she threw her hat in the air on the show's opening credits every week. (There's now a statue of her there, capturing the iconic moment.) 

I also loved the MTM spinoff "Rhoda." Rhoda's wedding to her blue collar boyfriend Joe was one of the most-watched TV episodes of all time, and anyone who ever saw it will never forget the sight of Rhoda, running through the streets of Manhattan, trying to hail a cab and finally resorting to riding the subway in her wedding dress to make it to the ceremony on time after Phyllis forgot to pick her up. :)

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (a former Entertainment Weekly writer) also grew up watching the show, and goes behind the scenes of this TV classic in this book.  Having read Mary Tyler Moore's memoir After All some years ago, I knew some of the stories.  What I like about this book is how it sets the show in the context of its times and explains why it was such a landmark, and how it's continued to influence our culture since then. (I do think the author doesn't give enough credit to earlier shows that paved the way for MTM -- particularly "That Girl" starring Marlo Thomas, which I adored.)

As a 9-year-old, I didn't realize or appreciate just how revolutionary this show was, not just in terms of subject matter, but how it was made. The producers, James Brooks and Allan Burns, made an effort to hire women writers to give Mary and Rhoda authentic female voices, which contributed so much to the show's success.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was reading about these women who worked behind the scenes -- their personal stories and the contributions they made to the show.

While the book makes much of Mary and Rhoda's status as single working women, it doesn't mention that they were also childless. I don't remember any discussion of children or wanting children on the show, although I do remember Phyllis's daughter Bess (who seemed to be about my age) making occasional appearances and calling them "Aunt Mary" and "Aunt Rhoda." Another reason why perhaps they have stuck in my mind as role models. :)

I feel so incredibly lucky to have grown up with smart, savvy, funny, independent women like Mary & Rhoda as role models, and I enjoyed this book. It made me want to run out & buy the DVDs to watch all over again. :) If you're a fan of the show too, or interested in the subject of how women are depicted in pop culture, as I am too, I think you will enjoy this book too.

I started this book over Christmas vacation but didn't finish it until early January, so I'll count this as book #1 read in 2014. :)


  1. Oooh, this makes me want to go watch old reruns. Actually, I may see if they're on cable somewhere. The ChickieNob will only watch older shows -- Addams Family or Little House on the Prairie. I think she'd dig MTM.

  2. I loved MTM. Though I always felt slightly indignant that Mary was taken for granted and never quite given the credit she deserved.

    And I love the idea of a new generation watching MTM.

  3. That's so cool. I loved the MTM show and I watched Rhoda too. I wanted her to be my best friend. It was awesome to actually meet her in person and work with her on set!